Thursday, December 17, 2009
End of the Semester, South Island, and Finally Home
I can't believe my New Zealand has come to a close so quickly. I am using this entry to fill in all of the blanks of my last month in New Zealand. I can't believe how fast the end of the semester came and went, even how fast the entire 5.5 months flew past me. As I am now home in (freezing!) Massachusetts, the entire last 5 months of my life seem like some strange dream.
November in New Zealand was beautiful. I finally started to get really warm. Right in time for me to head back to New England winter. The first two weeks were completely uneventful. We had finals, which were a lot of work, so I didn't have too much time to explore anything new. I took a walk to Mt. Eden, a dormant volcano with an amazing view of the city from the top. Other than that, most of my time was spent in the University of Auckland Library.
After I finally finished finals, on the last day, I packed and left for my 16 day trip around South Island! Since I have always wanted to do some independent traveling, I decided to take on South Island solo. It was an amazing experience, I got to meet a lot of really cool people and had an amazing time every place I went. Here is my list of destinations over the two weeks, along with summaries of my time in all of the beautiful places!
Christchurch is an amazing city. During my time here, I did a lot of wandering as well as checking out different art museums and art centres. They have the most beautiful botanic gardens I have seen, the gardens are enormous and offer plenty of space to lay out with a book as well as many floral arrangements.
Christchurch is well known for its Cathedral Square, which is at the center of the city and is home to their famous Cathedral, which is immaculate. It was beautiful both inside and out. Also in Cathedral Square, I was able to watch a game of chess on a life size board, and shopped at a local market. After my couple days in Christchurch, I found that it was a city with a small town feel, however had an endless amount of things to do.
When I first arrived in Oamaru, I was trying to figure out how I was going to keep myself entertained there for an entire two nights. It was a very interesting Victorian town. I was lucky enough to end up there during there Victorian Heritage Festival, something they take very seriously. Many town residents spend the entire week dressed to the tens in Victorian era costume. It was quite a sight, considering most of the town's architecture and design make one feel like they are living in the Victorian era to begin with.
Aside from its Victorian heritage, Oamaru is also known for its penguin colonies. This was a great aspect of this small town. Even though everything in the town closed at 5 pm, after dark I was able to go down to the beach and watch as hundreds of penguins came home from their days at sea. There was a company that would charge you $20 to go and look at these penguins, but I was lucky enough to happen upon a part of the beach where they came up right after dark. Trying to dodge a $20 charge, I decided to check a beach out to see if I could catch any of them. Before I knew it, penguins were everywhere! It was the funniest thing.
In the end, I found that this tiny Victorian town had much to offer and gave me an interesting and diverse experience over my few days there.
My next stop was the Scottish city of Dunedin. Unfortunately, most of my time in this city was rainy. However, I was able to check out a really cool art exhibit in the city centre. I also had a chance to have lunch in it's botanic gardens. Since I was there for a Saturday night, I even went out to check out the local music scene, which proved to be really impressive.
I've had many people tell me before how much I was going to love Queenstown, and how it was such a beautiful place. But I was never able to grasp what they meant until I actually got there for myself. This town is beautiful, its any young persons paradise. It consists of a downtown area with tons of interesting bars, as well as great places to shop. In addition, Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. If you want to do something adventurous, its here. I went to go skydiving, but unfortunately it was too windy at the time and my dive got cancelled. Hoever, I still had time to take a short hike and explore around the lake. The lake is rimmed by The Remarkables, which is the mountain range pictured. On one of my days in Queenstown, I took a day trip to the Milford Sound. The Milford Sound, actually a fiord, is one of the places in New Zealand that I was not going to leave without seeing. Because it rains there about 240 days out of the year, the cruise was a rainy one, but it was unbelievably scenic and completely worth the 10 hours on a bus.
Wanaka is a small town that I almost skipped on my trip. I don't remember how I heard about it, but I am so glad that I did. My two nights in this small lakefront town ended up being two of my favorite nights of my trip. Lake Wanaka is absolutely beautiful. On my first day, I took a walk on one side of the lake. On the second day, I decided to hire a bike to cover more ground on the other side of the lake. I didn't know it was going to be such an intense and bumpy bike trail, but the scenery was fantastic and I has an absolute blast. The weather was perfect in Wanaka, much warmer than the other towns I had visited beforehand. Its amazing how my geographical location on South Island determined the climate so drastically.
The town of Tekapo was by far the smallest town I have ever visited. However, due to its location right next to the glacial Lake Tekapo, its a popular spot for backpackers to spend a night. One of Tekapo's main attractions is a star observatory on the top of Mount John. Since Tekapo is in "high country", with not much around it, it is known as an ideal spot for stargazing. Sadly, the one night that I decided to stay in Tekapo, it rained. I was thoroughly disappointed to miss such a cool opportunity to visit the Mt. John Observatory, but I ended up having a very relaxed evening with some new Dutch friends. It was a really nice atmosphere in the hostels of very small towns, since there was not much to do in town, people opted to stay in and hang out at night and I got the chance to meet a lot of cool people this way.
By the time I got to Kaikoura, I was exhausted from the previous two weeks. So thankfully, I wasn't too upset when it rained for almost my entire stay on this gorgeous peninsula. The day I arrived, I was able to go on a whale watch before the rain started, which was enjoyable, but not as eventful as I had hoped it would be. We were able to spot two sperm whales, which didn't seem very active. In addition, we watched wandering albatross soar over the waves. After the whale watch, I took a walk in the drizzle to see the seal colonies, which were worth the walk in the rain. The next day was a complete wash out, but I was able to catch up on some reading and catch up with some old friends who I ran into in my Kaikoura hostel. I had met them on a trip in North Island, so it was a surreal reminder of how small New Zealand can seem at times.
Because I had been moving around so much and living out of a duffle bag, my South Island trip made me more than ready to settle back at home. Because of this, I feel that it was the perfect ending to an amazing semester in New Zealand.